A Preliminary Defense of Mindfulness

Left unattended, my mind gorges itself on neuroses, picking each one up and winding them like wooden tops. When the spinning becomes unbearable, the mind’s hand reaches for the tinny, metallic ephemera of the external world, hoping to manipulate a change. Of course, this doesn’t work all the time.

I spent the past 7 or 8 weeks organizing a benefit party for over 200 people that culminated in a huge event last week. My meditation practice was flanked by emails, calendars, elevator pitches, harried phone calls, and negotiating conflict between coordinators. I was also managing (read: half-ignoring) the feelings that came up with the label “me.” Fantasizing about financial goals, disappointments, anger, resentment, and then the Catholic guilt for having negative emotions at all. My long-distance partner also arrived for a visit last week, and attached to that loved body, like little sails, were my own myriad attachments, preoccupations, fears and longings.

Since I had tasked myself with the Happiness Meditation Challenge, the weedy life that had sprung up around the meditation sessions was thrown into sharp relief. The part of mind which was unscheduled, unfettered by the Happiness Challenge, was like a leech on it’s own experience, hurtling in wide downward spirals, sucking the meatless bones of expectation. Everything was moving so quickly, and as time moved I found myself looking around for a pause and finding none. While walking from appointment to appointment, I was going over unfinished tasks, worrying that I had not eaten enough, wondering if life would feel better in another country, and hoping that I was pleasing others. I had a sense that things were not going well, but the current of my daily experience was so strong that I could only be carried by it. Even during my meditations, I noted a clenched jaw (my mind’s natural asana). If I let it, my foot would start to jiggle in anticipation of the alarm.

This morning, on returning to the mental notation meditation, an idea ripened. I was having a deeply relaxing session where the chatter of the mind was stroked into a catlike nap. The alarm rang, and I recalled a previous meditation. Sharon had said that mindfulness exercises can inform the mind on how it is acting outside of the exercises. She gave an example of a man who was gripping his toothbrush with too much force. He realized how this could be generalized to the rest of his life. How can one expect to enter deep stages of meditation or to relieve suffering completely if the toothbrush cannot be gripped with ease? It reads like an ad hominem fallacy, but on the Buddhist path each karma is relevant. We do not have enough time, and we are charged with an incredible mission to perceive emptiness directly in this lifetime. We have to comport ourselves with relaxed clarity as much as we can. This will settle the little tide pool mind for deep meditation, and it will also improve our chances of better future meditation.

The word “karma” means “movement of the mind.” It is said that there are 60-something karmic seeds are produced in the moment of a finger snap. Each of these karmas roughly doubles each day, creating more and more of the same experiences. Say you meditate for 1 hour a day, assuming that this meditation is perfectly deep, and perfectly focused. Great. Good for you. That would be (roughly) 60 karmas per second, 3,600 per minute, and 216,000 per hour. Okay, great. You’ve got 216,000 white karmas for focus, clarity, relaxation. But at 60 karmas per second, 3,600 per minute, and 216,000 per hour, for 23 more hours, you have 4,968,000 black karmas of rushing, worrying, distraction. That’s 23 times more black karmas than white karmas. It occurs to me that mindfulness helps to settle the odds by increasing the number of karmas that will ripen into quiet, clear experiences.

With a daily meditation practice, you will see how the edges between cushion time and daily life become blurred, and agitations from life can seep into the mind while it is trying to focus on just one object. Cultivating mindfulness during the other 23 hours of the day means that mindfulness will seep into mindfulness. When pouring God into God (a great Salinger quote), the mind is not ruffled by itself.


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May all beings be happy ♡